Oops, I Specialized Too Much. What Now?
A Distributor Asks: You hear the term “niche marketing” praised a lot these days. But what if you’ve gone down that path and specialized in a niche, and now the niche you’ve specialized in is in a down cycle? How do you get out of the tailspin?
Look for other opportunities and craft an exit/transition plan. Don’t sink with the ship. Find another niche in a growing market. People want to work with experts, not average providers. Specializing is the fastest way to grow because it allows you to attract the kind of clients that will be most profitable, and simplify product research and fulfillment, among other advantages.
Niche marketing, which means appealing to a relatively small and specialized customer base, is popular. However, it can be redefined if market conditions change. Three options come to mind.
Obviously, you can stop being a niche marketer and broaden your approach. Or, you can simply change your niche. A third approach is to create a niche within your existing one.
For example, if apparel is the current niche category you’re focusing on, you can become an expert on women’s apparel. Great niche marketers strive to become a category of one. They master their mini-niche with such excellence that they often become known as the undisputed expert. Their business grows, and so do their margins.
I almost forgot the most important part: Love what you do; there is no substitute for passion. The best niche for you is the one you really want to pursue.
David J. Hawes, MAS+
While niche marketing has its benefits, there’s always the flipside to consider. Maybe we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket, but rather diversify into other industries. It’s about marketing, branding and rebranding when necessary. It’s not much different than what we do for our clients, but it’s always different when we need to do our own self-assessment.
Logos and taglines can always be modified to reflect a different appeal, perhaps in a new market segment. This [new market segment] can be incorporated into a separate division of your company with a unique URL. In fact, you can have different specialized divisions under one company umbrella.
Fortunately, the experience and knowledge we have within this industry provides us the ability and flexibility to sell our ideas and products across various industry sectors.
Amy Mallet, MAS
A healthy balance is a diversified client base. While you are developing a specialty (or niche), start the early stages of another from a completely different part of the market.
The Bob Levitt Company
The challenge presented here offers a fair warning to all distributors and sales reps not to “put all their eggs in one basket.” It’s a danger to have too much of our business in one account or one industry.
With that said, the solution to finding more sales when your good customers are concentrated in an industry with a down cycle is threefold.
First, assuming you have good customers in a down cycle, I would recommend being honest with them. Tell them your sales with them are down and find out what other products or services they may need to help you increase your sales with them through the downturn. Products they may not know you sell: printing, packaging, banners, uniforms, awards and more. Find out who else in the company may also be making purchasing decisions. Finally, ask your good customer for referrals. They know your sales are down with them and may be motivated to help. Make sure you are connected with your customers on LinkedIn so you can see who they know and be able to proactively ask for referrals to specific people, too.
Second, though this may sound counterintuitive, call on other companies in the same industry that are not currently your customers. They are likely looking for new ways to grow sales and lower costs, and that could include finding new suppliers. Your work with other companies in that industry could help you gain instant credibility and opportunities.
Third, it’s time to find new customers. Since you already have customers, you know how to get more. Reflect back on how you found your existing customers and commit yourself to repeating those processes.
Gregory P. Muzzillo, Sr.
A Distributor Asks: I am a small distributor considering hiring a straight-commission sales rep. I have never done this before. Any tips on how I should structure the arrangement? Should I offer 60/40 to start and then transition to 50/50 at some point? Are there any resources on how to set this up? Email your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deadline: April 26
Julie Richie is associate editor for PPB.